Living in a rental property can be a wonderful experience, but it can also turn into a nightmare if things go wrong.
If you discover there’s a damp issue, rat infestation, dangerous wiring, or another serious issue, but the landlord fails to address the problem or carry out the repairs in a timely fashion, you are likely to feel more than a little dissatisfied.
Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, with the exception of the most serious cases, landlords are currently not able to evict tenants unless they have given six months’ notice.
Meanwhile, the law requires rental properties to be safe and in good repair. It is a cornerstone of the rental market that renters have the right to a "safe, properly maintained property".
So, if your rental isn't up to scratch and you need to raise an issue, here's a step-by-step guide on how to complain in order to get things sorted out pronto.
1. Making a complaint
If you have a problem with your rental property, your first course of action should be to complain to your landlord or letting agent.
Some landlords have a complaints procedure. If this is the case, use it. If your landlord does not have a complaints procedure, you should complain to them in writing.
If you have a letting agent, there should also be a formal complaints procedure, which you will need to follow.
When making a complaint, be sure to keep copies of any letters or photos for your own records. These documents will be important if your landlord or letting agent doesn’t respond to your complaint as it will demonstrate you made an effort to resolve the problem.
2. What to include when lodging a complaint
When writing a letter or filling in a complaint form, you need to include:
- the fact you are complaining
- what you are complaining about
- when the problem took place
- photographs, if possible, of the problem (such as a leaking roof)
- what, if any, correspondence has already occurred on the matter (include copies of letters or emails)
- how you would like the complaint to be resolved
- the date
- your name and address
- any reference numbers.
3. Getting a satisfactory and timely response
In many cases, your landlord or letting agent will respond to your initial complaint.
If this happens, and repairs are carried out – or measures taken to resolve any problems – check the work to ensure everything is completed to a satisfactory standard.
Chris Norris, director for Policy and Practice at the National Landlords Association (NLA), says: “If a tenant has an issue, they should speak to their landlord or managing agent in the first instance to resolve it as quickly as possible. It is in a landlord’s interest to act quickly in the majority of cases, as a prompt solution should prevent deterioration and additional costs.”
4. What if you don’t get a satisfactory and timely response?
If your landlord fails to respond to your initial complaint in a satisfactory and timely fashion, you should submit another complaint – this time by certified mail.
By doing this, if your landlord is still unresponsive, you can then take legal action against them further down the line – should you decide to do so.
Norris says: “On the rare occasions where there is no satisfactory response, the tenant should notify their landlord in writing, in order to avoid misunderstanding and prove that the landlord has been made aware.”
If action is still not forthcoming, a report should be made to the local authority which may arrange an inspection and start enforcement to bring the property up to standard.
5. Where else can you turn to for help?
- If you are a council or housing association tenant, you can complain to the Housing Ombudsman. This won’t cost you anything.
- If a letting agent fails to respond in a satisfactory or timely fashion – or if you are not happy with the outcome – you can make a complaint to their independent complaints body. Your letting agent has to be a member of an approved redress scheme: the Property Ombudsman or Property Redress Scheme.
- You can also try contacting your letting agent's trade body or professional association, if they belong to one. These organisations normally offer an arbitration service. They include ARLA (Association of Renting and Letting Agents), NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents), NALS (National Approved Letting Scheme) and UKALA (UK Association of Letting Agents).
- Some landlords may have a more advanced complaints procedure which allows you to appeal – or to take your complaint to a more senior person, a professional organisation, or to an ombudsman.
- If there is a health and safety hazard in your home that your landlord should deal with – such as dangerous wiring or gas pipes, dangerous structural repair, mould or damp, a leaky roof, or mice infestation – you can contact your council’s environmental health department. Environmental health can inspect your home and make a decision. They can also get in touch with the landlord informally to ask that work is carried out – or issue a formal order for the work to be done.
- You can also talk to an adviser at Citizens Advice and can get help from Shelter.
You should usually take your complaint as far as you can before resorting to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) or before you consider going to court.
6. Taking legal action
If your landlord fails to carry out repairs – or fails to get the job done to a satisfactory level or within a reasonable time period – you can take them to court and claim for compensation. You can ask the court to order your landlord to:
- carry out the repairs needed
- pay your compensation
But if you do decide to take legal action, you need to be aware this could be expensive, as you will face court fees (that can be claimed back from the landlord if you win your case).
With this in mind, court action should only really be considered as a last resort once all other routes have been exhausted.